Listening to the constant drumbeat from the media and scientific experts about the dire consequences of man-made global warming can be depressing at times. Most of these scientists are agenda-driven and/or being sponsored by special interests, first world governments, or the United Nations. The rationale for their scholarly conclusions is easily understood. Most or the rest of the scientific community are so buried in the minutiae of their respective fields that they fail to consider the macro environment with which we are dealing.
The true status of global warming is difficult to ascertain since current means of determining the temperature are not reliable, due to environmental factors like the urban heat islands of large metropolitan areas and the numerous parts of the globe without sensing devices. In other words: Is the globe really hotter, and if so, how much? How do you determine the average temperature of a planet whose surface is 70 percent water and 30 percent land mass? Computer modeling creates a lot of questions.
Logic teaches us that the cause of global warming is not carbon dioxide just because the former followed the latter. Factual analysis of core samples shows us just the opposite. Yes there is a connection between carbon dioxide and warming, but core sample analysis shows that an increase in carbon dioxide actually follows an increase in temperature. It does not precede it. This is explained by the inverse solubility of carbon dioxide in water. In other words, as ocean temperatures increase carbon dioxide is less soluble and passes into the atmosphere. As the waters cool, the carbon dioxide returns to the oceans again. Ocean temperature controls how much carbon dioxide is in the air not the other way around.
The fact that carbon dioxide levels are higher now than 300 years ago suggests that on average the planet experienced some heating during this time, in spite of our inability to measure it, and that the warmer oceans expelled carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is miniscule compared to the temperature controlled partitioning of carbon dioxide between air and water. Granted there are hot spots of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere down-wind from major industrial areas especially in the Northern Hemisphere where most industries reside. But when you consider that 93 percent of carbon dioxide is dissolved in the oceans and the remaining 7 percent is divided between biomass and air, the critical factor controlling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the temperature of the oceans.
• A whole new cadre of applications-oriented consultants and engineers has developed, making a good living recommending ways to control your carbon footprint. They are more than ready to reinforce the conclusions of some scientists that human beings are at the root of the problem. The entire industrial world has been intimidated into following suit or being left behind. Here in Costa Rica, Al Gore is headlining a one-day conference of seminars in March discussing sustainability of the environment. Major presentations are being made by the local newspaper; all basic food producers; Toyota Motors; Kimberly Clark; Clorox; local and international banks and the list goes on. These organizations are terrified of being branded anti-environmental.
• Just what is a greenhouse gas? With the exception of areas of dense cloud cover, solar radiation passes through our atmosphere to heat the earth’s surface. The earth in turn radiates a portion of this heat toward outer space in the form of infrared radiation. Several gases in the atmosphere can absorb the infrared radiation thus heating the surrounding air and warming the surface. The important greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide and to a lesser extent methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.
Methane, nitrous oxide and ozone are the most efficient infrared absorbers, but due to their extremely low concentrations (only parts per billion) their contribution to the greenhouse effect is calculated to be no more than 1.3 percent. Carbon dioxide is a much less efficient infrared absorber, and at 388 parts per million contributes only 5.2 percent. Water vapor is the least efficient absorber per molecule, but because of its comparatively high concentration, it contributes 93.5 percent of the greenhouse effect, thus dwarfing all the others.
Our original atmosphere was 80 percent water vapor and 10 percent carbon dioxide. A cooling event caused the water vapor portion to condense and fall as rain creating our oceans. In the process the water scrubbed most of the carbon dioxide from the air leaving levels similar to those of today. The carbon dioxide rich sea water (carbonic acid) helped in dissolving salts from the rocky surfaces.
• The current composition of dry air is: 1) 78% nitrogen, 2) 21% oxygen, 3) 1% argon, 4) 0.04% carbon dioxide, and 5) trace quantities of several greenhouse gases including methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.
In reality our current atmosphere is not dry and contains between 1 to 4 percent water vapor depending on the water content of the underlying surface.
To better understand the greenhouse effect of water vapor, consider the world’s deserts. There are both hot and cold deserts. The only requirement is that the area be deprived of water. All deserts experience a dramatic temperature change from daytime highs to nighttime lows due to the lack of the normal 3 percent water vapor in the air acting as a greenhouse gas. These desert temperature swings occur in spite of the desert atmosphere retaining its normal 0.04 percent carbon dioxide as well as the more efficient absorbers in their trace quantities. In other words, even at the current level of carbon dioxide, its impact as a greenhouse gas is minimal in dry air over desert regions.
We can speculate that carbon dioxide shows an equally minimal effect over humid areas.
It is clear that water vapor is our major greenhouse gas. Its buffering or dampening effect on temperature is what makes human life possible on the planet, and it’s hard to blame humans for changes in water vapor concentration when oceans represent 70 percent of the earth’s surface.
Any future significant warming of the oceans will result in a faster water evaporation rate and abundant cloud formation when the water vapor rises to the 4 percent saturation level in air. This cloud cover then will act as a barrier to additional solar radiation and surface heating and serves as a self correction mechanism to over-warming.
Let’s take a look at some of the scenarios proposed by the global warming community. First, sea levels will rise catastrophically due to melting of the planet’s ice and snow. Antarctica is a continental land mass covered with ice and snow with an average temperature around 50 below zero F. For this ice to melt the earth would have to heat some 80 degrees F. That much heat would have killed all human life long before impacting sea levels. The Arctic ice is nothing more than a huge ice cube floating in the Northern seas.
As most people are aware, when an ice cube melts in a glass of water the volume of water decreases slightly since water increases in volume when freezing. So a complete Arctic ice melt will lower sea levels not raise them. Assuming further that all inland snow and glaciers melt completely and make their way to the sea instead of forming inland lakes, the resulting increase in sea level would be equal to the decrease in sea level from the Arctic melt.
When Amerindians came to the Americas they gravitated to the tropics and subtropics with few staying in the frigid zones. The accommodating climate and much longer growing seasons served them very well. Who’s to say that we wouldn’t benefit from and enjoy even more a warmer climate in the northern United States and northern Europe and Asia?
Maybe we all should take a deep breath, relax, and contemplate the positive side of a little global warming. Best of all would be the improvement in our mental health knowing that we were not to blame for the blessed event.
• It’s really difficult to make a reasonable case for any human activity trumping Mother Nature on a planet-wide scale considering the violent birth, history, and evolution of planet earth.
Mr. Dukes, of San José and Louisville, Kentucky currently is a consultant to the chemical processing industry (in the United States and Costa Rica. He has 50 years experience including research and development, manufacturing, sales and marketing and business management. He is a graduate of The University of Tennessee majoring in chemistry, math, and physics.